Location: Huntington, NY
Size: 130 acres
Date of hike: Oct. 9, 2016
I simply couldn't resist visiting Berkeley-Jackson County Park after reading about it in the news last week. The story involved a Facebook user named James Rankin who posted a video of himself hiking there six days earlier and finding a "missing persons shrine," according to media outlets. Taped on the trees were over a dozen missing persons posters from various states dating back a decade or more, along with bedding, opened cans of food, and remnants of an apparent cage or shelter. The video had 1.3 million views in just a week. But an online clip doesn't compare to a firsthand look. And so off I went, despite the drizzle.
In case you don't know the rest of the story, police reportedly investigated and determined a neighbor set up the "shrine" as part of decorations for a Halloween party. Rankin responded skeptically stating, "What I wanna know is, if these were 'Halloween party' decorations, why have they been hanging there for weeks or months? Because it was plainly obvious that the stuff had been there for quite a while, not set up recently. That's clearly the case as seen in the videos. Seems to me they're just using the time of year as an excuse." He later added, "Also gotta wonder what sort of person thinks it's OK to use real missing persons posters of people's lost loved ones as party decor." Rankin ends his post saying that he heard through the grapevine the homeowners would soon be installing fencing and "No Trespassing" signs. To my surprise, other than those news articles and a trail guide on the Town of Huntington's website, there was little information about the park online. I was pretty much going in blind.
I accessed Berkeley-Jackson through an opening along Warner Road, which had a widened shoulder big enough to fit a few parked cars. There was already one there when I pulled up. For some reason, I didn't expect to see another car since it was raining, but if I'd decided to hike on a crappy day then so could other people. I hadn't hiked the two previous weekends and I was itching to get outside, even if the weather was wet. Luckily, as soon as I entered, the branches overhead obstructed some of the raindrops. The first trail led me straight and west with houses on the left side for almost 10 minutes until it led to a fork. That's where I encountered two Asian ladies with very big dogs. They were headed back to the entrance, so I assumed the parked car belonged to them. That meant I was about to be alone in the park on a dreary day. Kinda creepy. But I wasn't about to turn back. I took the right fork.
Unfortunately, there are no trail markers in Berkeley-Jackson and the park's not even listed on Suffolk County's website, which I don't understand. But the markers are a big omission. The trails started off simple after the fork, with occasional paths shooting off here and there. I followed each one until it faded out, then returned to the original until another branched off, and so on. The greenery was pretty dense in parts, making it hard to see into the distance. I constantly looked left, right and behind me to make sure there was no one lurking around. While part of me expected an empty park due to rain, I also knew it was the first weekend since the story broke so I could've encountered some characters. The further west I went, the more random the trails became. Thank goodness for the map on my geocaching app.
The first strange thing I noticed was a roped-off trail in the park's northwestern section near Manor Farm. I slipped under the rope and explored. My determination was it was part of a haunted trail, which I verified online. A short hike south is where I found the former location of the missing persons shrine. The adjacent homeowner made it pretty obvious by printing dozens of "Private Property/No Trespassing" signs and taping them to the trees, similar to the shrine seen in Rankin's video. However, these signs weren't laminated like the posters, causing some to become wet and fall to the forest floor. Clearly, they were hung in a hurry. From my distance, I was able to see the fire pit seen in Rankin's video, but not much else.
From there, I marched south and east hoping to slowly make my way back to the entrance. The southern section of the park is hilly and contains remnants of two former sand quarries. I climbed one quarry for a sweet view of a distant water tower peeking out over the treetops. The quarries seemed like a perfect spot for sledding in the wintertime, and I even saw some broken sleds in the brush. With regard to greenery, the park included everything from black birch to chestnut oak to red maple. Its wildlife ranged from red-tailed hawks to red foxes to red-bellied woodpeckers, the trail guide stated. I didn’t see any due to the weather though.
My music of choice was a mix of Riverside, a progressive rock and metal band from Poland. They've probably been my most-listened-to band this year due to the sudden passing earlier this year of guitarist Piotr Grudziński. His death prompted me to get their complete catalog. The band's introspective tunes turned out to be terrific accompaniment on this overcast day. I simultaneously explored the trails within me as I explored the trails within the pretty park.
All in all, Berkeley-Jackson is a cool park to visit if you live in the vicinity. It's not as scenic as some other local spots, but the maze of trails and the tall quarries can be fun to explore. The so-called "shrine" is now gone, but the park itself is more than enough of an attraction.
(Updated: Feb. 10, 2018)
Video: Berkeley-Jackson County Park (360-degree view)